Getting inspiration from the right source

Last week I was up in Harrogate for a few days at the New Wine Leaders’ conference. Never having been to one before, I was unsure what it would be like – but it was actually very inspiring.

Christy Wimber at the New Wine leaders' conference

Christy Wimber was passionate about leaders keeping God as the top priority of their lives

Christy Wimber’s opening talk stressed how important it is for leaders to get their joy and satisfaction primarily from God. If we don’t receive from the Lord enough, we risk placing too much pressure on those around us. Then we are in danger of things like burnout and disillusionment – and we end up as one of the many leaders who fail to finish well. God’s voice has to be the one which is loudest in our lives.

For me Christy’s talk set exactly the right tone for the rest of the conference – but I was surprised at the number who just didn’t connect with what she was saying. I did wonder whether this reflected the fact that too many leaders fall into the very trap that she was warning against…

Jon Tyson was advocating thoughtful cultural engagement

Jon Tyson was advocating thoughtful cultural engagement

One speaker who made a big impression on most people was Jon Tyson, an Australian pastor at Trinity Grace Church in New York. His passion is for churches to engage thoughtfully with the surrounding culture. Too often, evangelical Christians have rejected secular culture where a more intelligent engagement would be far more constructive. He rooted this in a critique of the prevailing theology: evangelicals have held to a truncated view of God’s plans for the world, emphasising the Fall of man and God’s redemption, while neglecting God’s creation and his plans for restoration. This resonated with me because I have read NT Wright making the same basic point.

The most handsomest dude in Harrogate. Who else would I want to photograph?

The most handsomest dude in Harrogate. Who else would I want to photograph?

In practical terms, the seminars on church planting (in one of the ministry streams) were particularly helpful. Michael Moynagh gave a talk based on research that he’s done on Fresh Expressions – and he enthused about their effectiveness at outreach. Thus he found, from studying those in ten dioceses, that 40% regularly attending Fresh Expressions have had no significant church experience before.

One of the central achievements of Moyhagh’s talk was not getting ensnared by the big church versus small church debate which clouds much discussion on this and similar issues. He pointed out that the traditional church planting model – of a large church sending out a team of about 50 to a new area – is highly effective, under certain limited circumstances. Nevertheless, the model which is probably most broadly applicable is one which relies on smaller teams of 6-12 moving into an area, serving the community, listening, and demonstrating God’s love by practical action.

New Wine is seeking to become more effective at resourcing pioneer ministry. I found both Moyngah’s talk and the subsequent one by Gareth Robinson very helpful in enabling me to think through these issues.

The three days there were most enjoyable. There were of course other delights while there – not least sharing enormous naan breads at a local Indian restaurant with Geraint and Debra Hill from CFM in Dine’s Green!

Michael Moynagh enthused about the effectiveness of Fresh Expressions

Michael Moynagh enthused about the effectiveness of Fresh Expressions

Birding in the Scillies

Black redstart on St Mary's at Borough Farm

Black redstart on St Mary’s at Borough Farm

I’ve just come back from an enjoyable week in the Scillies. Birding is a highly social activity – especially where you have a high concentration of birdwatchers, as happens during the autumn migration in the Scillies. Here’s how it works…

It starts on the ferry from Penzance. Birdwatchers tend to congregate on the upper deck, because there are often interesting species to be seen that are rarely if ever seen inland (like shearwaters and skuas), and a good chance of seeing dolphins. There was a relaxed and buoyant mood, as people chatted about what they were seeing, and hoping to see once they arrived.

I booked into the Bylet, a guesthouse about five minutes from the centre of Hugh Town, generously managed by Lisa. At breakfast (which became the main meal of the day) I discovered that all five others who were there were also birders – so it wasn’t hard to guess the topic of conversation!

Whimbrel at Old Town bay

Whimbrel at Old Town bay

Compared to many of the other birders on the island, though, I am almost a novice. This becomes very apparent when the conversation turns to life lists – the number of species one has seen in the UK, or wherever. Take for example a conversation with Len, an ex bank manager staying at the Bylet.

Snow bunting on the way to the lighthouse at Peninis Head on St Mary's.

Snow bunting on the way to the lighthouse at Peninis Head on St Mary’s.

Len: “I’ve got a life list of about 480, but I don’t chase after birds much these days, not like I used to.”

Me: “My life list is about 230 or so.”

Len: “Excuse me?”

Me: “My life list is about 230 or so.”

Len: “Goodness me! I’ve seen 268 already this year – and I’m down on previous years!”

Me: “How do you manage that living in Devon?”

Len: “Well in January I spend a week on the Hayle Estuary, then in February I have a few days in the Forest of Dean. In March…”

Hmm, and you don’t chase birds these days?!

The main social event for birders on St Mary’s happens around the ‘log’, which takes place daily in the bar of the Scillonian Club at 9pm. It’s a regular ritual, and anyone looking for liturgy outside a church would be amply rewarded here! The guy co-ordinating it goes through the systematic list of British birds, to log all those seen during the day. For example: “Anyone seen any common redstarts today?” No response. “No. Black redstarts – one still at Town beach – any others?”

“One still by the Old Town Cafe.” “One still at Borough Farm.” “There was one on St Agnes today.”

“Stonechats – lots of them today as usual. Whinchats: anyone seen any of them?” And so on.

Lapland bunting on St Mary's at Peninis Head

Lapland bunting on St Mary’s at Peninis Head

I was delighted to see a couple of Lapland Buntings. Three years ago I had gone to see a small flock reported in east Yorkshire; in my impatience all I managed to do was to spook the entire flock so they flew off, before I was able to positively identify them; they didn’t return for some hours, long after I’d departed. I was therefore abnormally relieved and delighted to see the two on St. Mary’s! There was also a very obliging snow bunting, which foraged along the footpath leading to the lighthouse on Peninis Head. It was completely unworried by how close people got to it.

The song thrush outside the Old Town churchyard, overlooking the bay.

The song thrush outside the Old Town churchyard, overlooking the bay.

However, despite all my efforts, my best photographs were of a common bird, and happened quite by chance. I was sat on a bench outside the Old Town churchyard, overlooking the bay, and chatting with a couple of other birders, when I noticed a song thrush, perched only inches away on the arm rest of the next bench. So – while trying to maintain the conversation! – I manoeuvred the camera forward and started snapping.

It happened that this week was unusually poor for a migration season. Although chance conversations tended to be optimistic at the start of the week, there was a feeling of despondency among many birders by the end. The main problem was that the prevailing winds were unsuitable for anything particularly interesting to be blown in. Nevertheless, for me it was a delight just being on the Scillies and to be able to wander around these beautiful and wild islands.

The song thrush outside the Old Town churchyard, overlooking the bay.

The song thrush outside the Old Town churchyard, overlooking the bay.